Inspired by the iconic London Underground map, a new giftware range launched by a Worcester start-up has proved so popular that the founder is seeking extra retail partners to make the products more widely available.
Enterprising Becky Jones set up the company, Marbec Village, in December 2020. Working from her Warndon Villages home on evenings and weekends, and supported by husband Mark, she designs ‘Metro’-style graphics of popular locations and hobbies to decorate homewares including mugs, coasters, tea towels, magnets and T-shirts.
“The initial idea was to design a gift that local communities could embrace, such as having their own town or village on a product,” says Becky. “Taking inspiration from the Tube map we created original graphics covering areas like Worcester, the Cotswolds, Snowdonia and Cheshire; as well as themes like golf, rugby and gardening.”
To stand out from the giftware crowd, bespoke designs have also become a Marbec Villages hallmark. Becky explains: “Our personalised service allows designs to be customised. We can create ‘life line’ versions to celebrate special occasions or corporate events. For example I recently created a version for a teacher, featuring her class number as a ‘stop’ for a school prize. On our Cheshire version we’ve even had requests for Handforth to be added, following the viral video of its parish council meeting!”
And Marbec Village certainly hasn’t needed a map to reach its destination so far. Currently selling through Etsy and small outlets such as coffee shops, hotels and tourist information centres, the couple recently took their 400th order within four months. The company also showcases its items on Worcester Virtual High Street, the free, ‘shop local’ Facebook group bringing shoppers together with more than 500 County retailers, crafters, entrepreneurs and service providers. “I remember our first sale via Etsy,” recalls Becky. “The app rings a sales bell and I jumped in the air! In the next few hours the bell rang multiple times and we knew we’d started something different. It’s also been brilliant to see our products sent to California, Canada and Thailand.”
The original, world-renowned London Tube map was created by Underground electrical draughtsman, Harry Beck, in 1933. Rather than showing geographically accurate station locations, he produced a colourful, simplified grid based on the circuit diagrams he drew for work. Although initially rejected for being too radical, his at-a-glance map proved a hit; and is still an essential guide to London as well as a template for transport maps worldwide.
Following its early success, Becky is now looking to expand the Marbec Village network through additional retail partners. “As we come out of lockdown we’re looking for more shops, hotels, guest houses, garden centres and businesses to work with us – anyone who wants unique merchandise for their location, events or customers,” she confirms. “If things really take off it might become a full-time career!”
Worcester Virtual High Street is the fast-growing new Facebook group bringing shoppers, local independent businesses and retailers together to boost local trade, after what has been one of the most challenging commercial years in modern memory.
Set up in 2021 by Worcestershire businessman and photographer Michael Whitefoot, the group is free to join and allows independent shops, service providers, tradespeople, crafters, e-sellers and entrepreneurs from across the County to promote their wares and services to customers free of charge. Shoppers in turn have the chance to discover hundreds of exciting products, service providers, special offers and one-off buys at the click of a mouse. The group already has around 500 members and is attracting scores of new providers and shoppers every day.
“Worcester Virtual High Street is the perfect hub to bring together businesses and consumers at zero cost” confirms Michael. “It’s a great way for local providers to showcase their products or services to a bigger audience, cost-free, whether or not they have a physical shop or their own Facebook page. Meanwhile, consumers can find a huge range of artisans, retailers, tradespeople and professional services from the Worcester area, from the comfort of home. Together it creates a virtual High Street that makes it easy to source and shop local.”